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Engineer Camp Guide • Week 4

We're bringing camp home to you this summer with themed activities straight to your inbox. Enjoy a new guide each week as we explore select curriculum from each of our seven summer camps, recommended reads, and inspired videos.  Gather your materials, and let's get started...


  • Have fun!
  • Explore different types of engineering
  • Build fine motor skills
  • Develop critical thinking in young children


  • Eggs(s)
  • Recyclables
  • Plastic spoon
  • Mini marshmallows
  • 8 craft sticks (popsicle sticks)
  • 6-8 rubber bands
  • Lemon, lime or orange
  • Penny
  • Zinc-coated (galvanized) nail
  • Alligator clips
  • Small LED light
  • Toothpicks
  • Legos


The amount of prep work required will depend upon the age of your child.  We encourage you to have your child do as much of the work as possible.  The learning takes place through the process.

#1. Egg Drop

Playing with your food...

This versatile STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) activity will stimulate creativity in children of all ages.  Your child will utilize and improve their skills of design and development in the construction of an egg drop apparatus.  Observation skills are important to analyze what does and does not work.

  1. Discuss the properties of an egg and how likely it is to break when it is dropped.
  2. Brainstorm strategies for building a contraption to protect the egg when dropped from a tall height.  We encourage the use of recyclables.
  3. Have your child explain how their creative contraption idea will protect the egg.
  4. Help your child build the apparatus.  Let them take the lead.  The best learning will be in the trial and error process.
  5. Choose a location to test your egg drop and see how your contraption protects your egg.
  6. Post a picture on Gilbert House social media so we can see your ingenuity.

#2. Catapult Launcher

Explore force and leverage with household objects

Build your own catapult launcher.  Catapults are simple machines that use leverage to move objects further than a human can throw the same object.

Here is one idea for a catapult, but you can use any materials you have on hand:

  1. Stack 6 craft sticks and wrap a rubber band tightly around each end into a bundle.
  2. Take 2 more craft sticks and wrap a rubber band on one of the ends.
  3. Insert the 6-stick-bundle between the 2-stick-stack and stretch a rubber band crisscross to connect the two pieces.
  4. Use 2-4 rubber bands to attach a plastic spoon to the end.
  5. Launch marshmallows or other small objects.  Select a target and experiment with your placement of rubber bands.

Discuss the concept of force, the strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement.  Leverage, the exertion of force by means of a lever or an object used in the manner of a lever, is another important science concept to consider.  Illustrate leverage by experimenting with different placements of the stack between the 2 sticks, and demonstrate force by the pressure you put on the spoon while launching.

#3. Fruit Battery

When life gives you lemons, make a battery...

The following steps can be used to make a successful fruit battery:

  1. Give your lemon a quick roll to make sure the insides are extra juicy.
  2. Carefully use a knife or scissors to cut two slots/holes in opposite ends of the lemon.
  3. Insert the copper penny and the zinc nail into the pre-made holes.
  4. Connect an alligator clip to the nail, and connect a second alligator clip to the coin.  You should be left with two free clips at either end - one coming from the nail and the other coming from the coin.
  5. To complete the circuit, attach the clips to the LED.

Bio batteries work because two different metals suspended in an acidic solution create a chemical reaction that generates electricity.  All batteries consist of three key parts:  a cathode (the positive end of a battery), an anode (the negative end of a battery) and an electrolyte solution (the medium that allows the electric charge to flow between the cathode and anode).

With the fruit-powered battery, the copper penny serves as the cathode; it goes through a chemical reaction called reduction when it interacts with the citric acid solution that exists inside a lemon.  This reaction creates an excess of electrons.  Electrons repel one another, so as they build up they begin moving through the electrolyte solution (the lemon) to find free space away from other electrons.  At the other end of the lemon where the zinc nail is - the anode - another chemical reaction, oxidation, is taking place.  Oxidation makes the nail lose electrons.  This means that the nail now doesn't have enough electrons and is primed to receive more.  So, once you connect the nail (anode) and the penny (cathode) to an LED, you're completing a circuit allowing the electrons to flow in a continuous loop through the wire and the lemon, powering the LED.

#4. Marshmallow Toothpick Challenge

Accessible engineering

Toothpicks and marshmallows as building components in the hands of a creative engineer open a world of opportunities.  Here are a few of our favorite challenges to get your engineer thinking.

  1. Build one dimensional shape.
  2. Build three dimensional shapes.
  3. Create letters.
  4. Build a house.
  5. Build a tall tower.
  6. Build a bridge and test the weight capacity.
  7. Create animals.
  8. Create a sculpture.

Challenge your friends to a building competition over a video platform.  Share your inventiveness with Gilbert House and our community by posting a picture to social media.

#5. Five Days of Lego Challenges

Gear up for some quizzical books:

Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty

Rube Goldbery by Jennifer George

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

How Does My Home Work by Chris Butterworth


Relax with a brain-boosting video:

Lego Masters TV Show

Crash Course Engineering, What is Engineering? (series)

SciShow Kids, Solve Problems: Be an Engineer (series)

Photo credits and resources:  MomBrite; Discovery Science Foundation; Buggy & Buddy; DPM Spanish and Hands-on Science; 4-H; Play Teach Repeat

Gilbert House Children's Museum

116 Marion St NE Salem, OR 97301